Changing education through collaboration and technology

It’s redundant to say that technology has been making a huge impact in education for the last 20 years. Yet, the changes have been so fast that it feels daunting to keep up with them. It seems that every second a new tool or strategy is coming out and revolutionizing education. But what interests me the most is how fast kids keep up with it and how attractive it is to them. More importantly, if we, as teachers, don’t keep up with them, we lose them.

Every time I had to go into a classroom to teach or to help the teachers with new tech strategies, kids seemed to be very receptive and motivated to learn. This happened while helping them to attach a simple picture to their blog posts or having to create a movie for their science project. Moreover, what really called my attention was when they showed a lot of excitement when they had to collaborate with each other on their projects. Students demonstrated great enthusiasm when they had to create Gmail groups to better communicate with each other or to work in small groups on a project using Google slides.

This is not surprising. According to the NMC/CoSN Horizon Report, this kind of approach involves activities that are generally focused around four principles: placing the learner at the center, emphasizing interaction, working in groups, and developing solutions to real problems. Collaborative learning models are proving successful in improving student engagement and achievement, especially for disadvantaged students. This trend is an increasing focus on global online collaboration where digital tools are used to support interactions around curricular objectives and promote intercultural understanding.

As an example, Online school partnerships are a fantastic way to build intercultural understanding among children and teachers. Last year (2016) New Zeland schools created a partnership with schools is Singapore so they could learn from each other. Teachers from both countries are interacting in order to create long term exchange programs for their students. These ones will benefit from the online interaction and learn from each other’s cultures

According to Juliene Reed in her article “Global Collaboration and Learning“, “knowledge of other cultures around the world leads students to understanding and compassion. That, in turn, creates students who take action to make a difference in resolving problems and changing the world to be a better place”. (…) “Technology can be used to promote global learning, provide cultural understanding and build relationships. Educators need to find ways to connect students from different parts of the world so that they can learn together, share knowledge and develop cultural understanding and relationships. Through these types of learning experiences, students will increase their global awareness and understanding of other cultures in different parts of the world. These learning experiences can best be conducted by using technology for teaching and learning.”

There are a lot of different strategies teachers have been using with students, providing them with different opportunities to interact on a global scale. I’ll mention three of them:

  • Mystery skype: two classrooms skype with each other, from different places in the world. Students’ goal is to guess the other school’s location (country, state, city, school name) first.  They do this by asking yes and no questions.
  • Global read-aloud initiative: students from different parts of the world read the same book at the same time and share their thoughts about it.
  • Google Tour Builder: reflecting on field trips can be much more interactive and informative by using this tool.

Therefore, it’s important to provide students with a global education. A type of learning where students are exposed to a variety of experiences that bring them a general perspective of the world, inducing them to solve real problems, which they will face outside of their school walls. The use of technology becomes an efficient tool to make this bridge reliable and interesting for kids to achieve their goals.


Finland and the “phenomenon-based” learning

Classroom dynamic in Finland

Classroom dynamic in Finland

I was always interested in these rankings that place countries on the top of education in the world. Although they are subjective and give margin to a lot of discussions, there is one country that, year after year, seems to appear always at the top five. And that is Finland!

One of the most accepted and respected rankings is the PISA, which considers the results of tests in reading, science, and math from a lot of countries around the globe. Although Finland scored high on all of those subjects, the fact that they don’t care about the results of those tests is the main factor for its success.

Actually, the first standardized test the Finns take at school is when they reach the age of 16. They are more interested in the “learning for life” idea than on the scores “one size fits all”. So, predominantly, the schools in Finland are worried about preparing their students for the challenges they will face in their lives, instead of focusing on competition between their students. In accordance to that, some years ago, the schools in Finland implemented the “phenomenon-based” teaching rather than subject teaching. In other words, instead of focusing on teaching math, science and other traditional subjects, they adopted a strategy of mixing them up in more contextual and broader subjects like climate changing and European Union. This way, they can learn all of those traditional subjects as a multidisciplinary and interconnected way.

Another change the Finish schools adopted was the increasing of recess time during early childhood ages. Kids in Finland have 75 minutes break a day in comparison to the 27 minutes kids get in the US. This is really significant because the Finish realized that as the more kids play and socialize with each other, the more academic success they will have.

Exercise improves learning on three levels: It optimizes your mindset, by improving alertness, attention, and motivation. It prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for learning new information. And it spurs the development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus, an area of the brain related to memory and learning.

At last, but not least, everybody wants to be a teacher in Finland. That’s right, it’s one of the most desired courses in the universities, which have strict requirements for one to get in. Finish schools demand at least a master’s degree for teachers to start teaching in their schools. In addition to that, the career plan teachers get are really worth it, with a lot of professional development time provided. Moreover, teachers are very well paid there and “hHigh school teachers with 15 years of experience make 102 percent of what their fellow university graduates do. In the United States, by contrast, they earn just 65 percent.

On a final note, I want to thank @mwleyland and the others in this cohort for inspiring me to research about this subject, which I’ve been wanting to do it for so long. I always wanted to check what other countries in the world are doing to revolutionize education. Coincidently, the video about “Studio Schools”, which Michael recommended me on my last post, matches what Finland has been doing with their public educational system.

Engaging kids in learning

The video from Mimi Ito is so clarifying when it comes to understanding how kids are learning nowadays. She seems to be very sure about how teachers and parents and the whole community should approach learning. It’s a question of taking advantage of the opportunities, which are constantly popping up in front of us

Kids like to hang out with each other and socialize, so there is an opportunity right there for learning. Kids want to geek out and mess around, therefore there is an opportunity for learning. They are posting and commenting on social media and, yes, once again, another opportunity to learn.

My research took me to this web page, where the NCTE states the interesting Opportunity-to-Learn Standards. It states that students have the right to achieve their full potential by focusing and building upon the strengths of learners. The standards can help ensure equitable access to high-quality education taking in consideration the diverse, multiple ways students learn. How interesting should this be if it would be respected in all educational institutions?

During the past two years, I’ve been a member of a committee in my school which is in a task force to help the students become more engaged in learning. As a result of the MSA accreditation process, the Leaders of Their Own Learning Committee was created. This committee was based on the ideas from the book of Ron Berger, who states that student-engaged assessment encourages students to become more engaged in learning.

Berger’s ideas are reiterated by Tina Barseghian, who affirms schools should be designed to be wildly relevant for learners, their engagement, and their development. Both of them emphasize the importance of having students in the center of learning, to become problem-solvers, innovative and resilient. Project-based learning is one of the most engaging methods to achieve those goals because it takes into consideration what is meaningful and interesting to students. This way, they become part of the process and opportunities for learning are being created all the time.

Teachers have to be more sensitive and observe more in order to take advantage of those moments when they arise. Sometimes, we are attached to our curriculum and we just let an opportunity to learn slip in front of our eyes. Other times, we do realize and ignore it, in order not to bother what it seems to be the natural course of things (A.K.A. curriculum). On the other hand, we are missing a great opportunity to engage students in an interesting conversation and/or discussion, which could approximate them to the content. In a blink of an eye, kids could be identifying themselves to the subject, which makes it much more meaningful to them.

Comments or grades: that’s the question!

It’s well known that students learn from their peers much more than they learn from their teachers or parents. As part of his work as a developmental psychologist, Vygotsky stressed that children develop in a social matrix that is formed by their relationships and interactions with other children. The social environment is a major contributor to the cognition of children because of the open area of communication that exists that allows them to express and negotiate ideas as well as contribute to each other’s understanding.

In the social media era, comments that kids receive from their peers have a lot more weight to them and add much more value than the grades they receive from their teachers. By the moment that kids started to “geek out“, they became masters of a content or specific subject. Just by getting into deep information and knowledge acquired by navigating on the internet. That is a brand new world, a virtual one, created by kids, where educators have to open their eyes and try to get close to it as fast as possible.

Nowadays, with the sea of information and almost no limits of possibilities with the Internet, kids learn in different ways and different rhythms. Since very young, they are exposed to touch screens, Ipads, and social media. They are giving likes, and texting and interacting virtually with their peers. They build relationships around it. Sometimes, the games they play or the videos they produce become their way of living and can even create possibilities for them to earn money, at really young ages. 

The comment made by a peer, with the same level of status, give them a lot of weight and credit. Also, provides a space for discussion and development of the subject. The approval or critique from a friend creates an opportunity for them to exchange ideas and improve their product (video, game instruction, website, blog etc).

Schools have to think rapidly how to adapt better to kids demands and necessities. Get the education as close as possible to their life experiences. This way it will guide them to success through a safer way (according to the rules, avoiding self-exposition through the web).
In addition to that, by creating activities that are closer to their reality, learning becomes more interesting and meaningful to them. Kids love when technology is used as a tool to achieve learning. Doing something for fun can become a profession or a way of living.

It’s possible (almost imperative!) to design a curriculum that grades the relevant work of the students. This way, they will apply themselves at school not just for the sake of the grade, but because they see the importance of it for their lives.

Connectivism and Learning

The way we learn today is intensively related to the capacity of dealing with all the information accessible to us. It seems that the more information we get, the less we know. This paradox has been intriguing me for a long time. If we think through a linear thinking pattern, the more content we absorb, the more information we get, the more we should know. Well, it seems to be more complex than that.

In his article, George Siemens discusses a new theory of learning in comparison to the more traditional ones. He proposes the theory of Connectivism in contrast to Constructivism, Behaviorism, and Cognitivism. Basically, he says that knowledge has to be connected to the right people in the right context in order to become learning. In addition to that, he makes a very powerful statement when he says that “Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known”. This means that learners have to have the right set of skills to go beyond. To think about thinking (Metacognition).They have to develop the capacity to know how to look for the right information, as well. And this has to be a constant and cyclic process.

Bloom’s revised digital taxonomy also supports what George Siemens says, as it describes how should be the steps one should follow in order to acquire knowledge.

Bloom’s revised Taxonomy showing the flow and process of learning.


Although this diagram tries to illustrate the process one takes in order to advance from a lower to a higher order of thinking, it could be better represented as a cycle. In other words, once you get to go through all the steps and you achieve the stage where you create something new, your capacity to know more, as Siemens said, will take you back to the first stage (Remember). Then, you start all over again. It’s a constant and cyclic process.

I think this diagram would represent it better:






All of those theories make me wonder how kids approach this sea of information around them. This can be pretty hectic, as I’m pretty sure they must constantly ask themselves, how to discern what’s true from what’s not? how to prove the validity of all this information they have access, with a simple click on their touch screens? In addition, it also must be very difficult to organize and manage all this information. Anyway, probably the ones who will survive this virtual jungle are the ones who can better adapt themselves to a chaotic network of information.

What do you think?

Getting connected: how it used to be and how it is.

It’s interesting to think how the relationships between human beings have been based on different type connections among them. Those relationships created throughout the years were also responsible for many changes in the world

I was particularly amazed by the clip posted in our first week reading, where the author describes how the relationships and their interconnections have been studied and researched since the beginning of the living species. It’s so interesting to realize how those connections, made through history, have impacted the evolution of all the species until today. Never had really thought about it!!

Human beings have also gone through a long journey, where their connections were transformed from face-to-face to virtual ones. Once, those interactions were limited by time and space and probably took place inside small villages or cities. Now, connections seem to have no limit. They are global. Language or distance barriers are now suppressed by a click of an app.
All these transformations and different connections that happened in the past, helped to build a new era, where relationships between us, human beings, are challenging and intriguing. With all the tools and technology accessible nowadays, interactions among people are totally different than it used to be 15 years ago. Wow, look at this number: 15! taking in consideration only the evolution of the homo sapiens, 15 years is nothing. Almost like yesterday!
Working in a school makes us sensitive enough to observe daily all these transformations taking place in a short amount of time. When I started my career as a teacher, not too long ago, not all the kids had cell phones and classes didn’t have computers one-on-one. Well now, cellphones became smartphones and it’s rare to see a kid, from the age of 10, that doesn’t have one. back in the day, students use to go to their computer lab to have computer lessons. Now, every single assignment is delivered through their own personal computer.
Although they are focused on their own devices, they are not alone. That’s the way kids interact with each other now
With all that said, we have to understand that kids interact differently now. A lot of people are concerned, including parents, how this type of interaction is going to affect their own lives and the lives of the next generations. there is a lot of critique about excessive time spent in front of the screens and how it can impact negatively their lives. Well, kids are about movement, about running and playing and spending energy. True, but we also have to notice that those relationships and interactions created through the screens have their benefits: school projects and study halls are taking place from each one’s houses; games are played online; friends are getting closer through skype or facetime call; couples and entire families have been created through the access of the internet…
Like everything in life, modern connections have their pros and cons. How do we find the balance?